The Gutenberg and the Bad

A longtime WordPress user’s rocky first steps outside the Classic Editor plugin

Let’s talk about Blocks.

I updated my sites to WordPress 5 pretty early on, but kept the Classic Editor plugin in place to stall the use of the new Blocks editor, aka Gutenberg, for a while. Finally deciding it was time to move on from these “training wheels” and embrace the change, I deactivated Classic Editor a couple of weeks ago on Nerdvana and have been trying to get used to the new way of things.

I’m still trying.

It’s very trying.

It came at a busy time, and some of my site’s contributors still won’t touch the thing, so that’s had the extra effect of making a bit more work for me even as I grapple with the changes myself.

There are about a handful of major things that continue to frustrate me:

  • I don’t want to embed most links. Not every webpage I’m going to paste into a post is a Jetpack-enhanced WordPress site that lends itself to embedding. But WordPress now is assuming that I do want to embed every URL I paste, and then giving me the secondary option of simply displaying the address I’ve pasted. This seems backwards.
  • This isn’t strictly a Block issue, but I’ve only encountered it in the Block-based Gutenberg editing environment: Permalinks are no longer stripping out punctuation like apostrophes, and, to me, that’s bad. I haven’t done the research yet to see if apostrophes are acceptable now in URL structures, but I’m guessing that’s still not the case. It means I have to remove them — another step, added for nothing, when they were sanitized automatically before. (Aren’t routine functions like that what we really have computers for in the first place?)
  • Formatting large swathes of existing text is next to impossible, and inconsistent. Heaven help you if you want to mix in new content with stuff you added in an earlier session, or are working with a draft that was created before using Gutenberg that converted to a Classic block. It’s really a mess. It needs to get better soon.
  • Tag entry is buggy as hell. Sometimes they show up late. Sometimes I have to let them auto-populate as I type, and click to select them — and that doesn’t always guarantee it will take. I shouldn’t have to go back to the Posts hub (a safe harbor that still feels entirely like the “old WordPress”) to be able to reliably enter tags, but that’s what I find myself doing — a lot. Maybe you don’t use tags anymore, but I do. If WordPress wants to deprecate them, they should just do it — not make it more aggravating for users who still feel they need them.
  • Switching between Document settings and Block settings in the right sidebar is not at all intuitive, and often the scrolling is buggy. It’s also a lot of scrolling for what feels like little improvement, if any.
  • Access to WordPress.com’s free image library seems to be spotty depending on how you’re editing. I can use the WordPress iOS app to add these goodies to my Media Library — but that’s a cumbersome extra step that shouldn’t be necessary. I haven’t figured out yet if this is due to the new interface, or just coincidental with it.
  • Many of the new Post editing interface’s elements overlap with other, more longstanding WordPress Admin elements in ways that could lead you to navigate away from your work-in-progress before you’re ready to:

All that being said … There are a few things I really like about Blocks, and they’re why I haven’t run back to the Classic Editor plugin.

  • Resuable Blocks are a great addition to the toolbox. I’m on the lookout for creative uses for these beyond the obvious.
  • Cover images and full-bleed pictures (even if one’s theme doesn’t embrace the full-bleed style) are, without a doubt, one of the most dramatic and attractive new features people will recognize and remember, especially when they don’t require a child theme or plugin (or ad-hoc code snippet) to add.
  • I’ve never been much of a “page builder” user on my WordPress sites, but Gutenberg’s potential (yet unrealized) role as a native replacement for those hefty add-ons is one of the things driving me to accept the Block revolution.
  • I’m composing this post entirely in the new editor, and after letting my draft sit for a bit and coming back to it I realized it’s been a pretty comfortable and effortless experience — but, then, I’m just writing inline, not trying to wrangle a half-dozen elements like I would for a newsier piece or somebody’s movie review or video game deep dive.

I’m not usually a “sky-is-falling” alarmist with tech upgrades — all things must advance, and sometimes that means you need to let go of things that are comfortable until they become second nature. But when a jump forward leaves key elements behind, is it really progress?

I think it totally depends on what you use WordPress for, what parts of it you rely on and how you use them. But, for me, the jury is still out on Gutenberg’s Blocks.